Beirut under Fire
BEIRUT — It’s 2:35 a.m. here and I’m running on little sleep. The Israelis bombed the ports of Beirut, Jounieh and Tripoli tonight. I live near the port, in Ein el-Mreisse, so the bombs sounded like they landed on my neighbor’s house, they were so loud.
The lighthouse to the west of me on the elegant corniche was also bombed. I’ve seen some reports that it was either destroyed or just had the top knocked off it, but since it’s dark and I’m on deadline to multiple publications, I’ve not been able to check that.
Beirut is shuttered, but not yet shattered. It has the feel of a deserted city, though, and at 1 p.m. today most of the shops were closed, there were very few cars on the streets and most people were in a hurry to get somewhere with a reinforced roof over their heads. In Dahiyeh, the southern suburbs, it was worse. I found huge craters in the middle of intersections, shattered glass from the concussion waves and mounds of red earth where Israeli munitions had churned up the clay beneath the street. Bridges are destroyed.
Walking and driving around the streets, I noticed a peculiar trait of Beirut: _it’s not always possible to know what’s old war damage or new damage, and what might just be run down._ Beirut is ramshackle and delightfully dilapidated in some parts — mostly the poor Shi’a parts, which are also the main target areas. It’s an interesting challenge to remember that that balcony which appears freshly shorn off is actually from 20 years ago.
Speaking to people from Bourj al-Barajai, a southern neighborhood, revealed a defiance that masked whatever apprehension they might feel. I found a make-shift bomb shelter and spoke with the people inside, who remained defiant.
“Those soldiers will not go back to their home until our people come home,” said Ghassam Abduallah, referring to the Lebanese prisoners still held despite Israeli’s 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon after 18 years of occupation.
It appears the bombing campaign is designed to seal off the south from the rest of the country. There is a naval blockade. Israel has complete air superiority. From reports, the last remaining bridges connecting the south to the rest of the country have been blown. Israel isn’t just isolating Lebanon from the world; Israel is isolating Hezbollah forces from the rest of Lebanon. If this campaign is successful, Hezbollah will not be able to get reinforcements and supplies into the south and neither will it be able to pull them back to protect them from Israeli advances.
All this points to an invasion soon, and I think Israel is going to try to destroy Hezbollah once and for all.
The feeling here, and this is just based on my day in the city running around talking to people, is that Hezbollah plans to stay and fight. For a movement fueled by martyrdom, a glorious final battle with the hated enemy must have some cachet. This might explain their air of confidence rather than desperation when me and a colleague got hassled by Hezbollah’s security guys in the bunker. They acted like guys in complete control with none of the twitchy desperation of guys who think the gig is up. Hezbollah may soon be surrounded, but they’re going to stay and fight, I think.